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Lexington man denies setting apt. fire

Lexington graduate student Michael D. Mitchell said during his arson trial Friday that he did not set fire to an apartment at the Kirklevington Hills complex.

Defense attorney Patrick Nash asked, "Did you have anything to do with setting that fire in 96A" on Feb. 26, 2007?

"Absolutely not," Mitchell said.

Nash asked: "Are you guilty or not guilty of that crime?"

"Not guilty," Mitchell said.

But federal prosecutors say Mitchell was attempting to get out of his lease without paying a penalty because of a series of at least three fires at the complex from February 2005 to December 2006. The apartment management would allow only renters whose units were uninhabitable to break their leases.

The government says Mitchell, who was indicted in June, stole the key to unit 96A, two stories above his apartment and where the apartment owner lived while in town. Mitchell allegedly doused the carpet with gasoline and set it ablaze. Prosecutors have said Mitchell, 25, is not suspected in the other fires.

Mitchell's friends, Brandon Dunstan and Adam Embry, testified that they watched the University of Kentucky-Vanderbilt basketball game and played video games with him the night before the Feb. 26, 2007, fire. Both said he did not appear upset or angry.

"I knew that he was unhappy with his living situation," Embry said.

Mitchell testified that he had already made arrangements in January 2007 to move into the Grand Reserve at Pinnacle apartments with his girlfriend the following May.

But on the day of the fire, Grand Reserve management allowed him to start moving into an apartment there.

"I did not feel safe" at Kirklevington, Mitchell said.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 9:45 a.m. Monday before U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell.